Photo: Courtesy of Warp Records via Bandcamp

Jockstrap’s ‘Wicked City’ Is an Unfolding of Boundaries

On Wicked City, UK art-pop duo Jockstrap run through a gamut of styles and sounds, sometimes gracefully, sometimes forcefully, but always seductively.

Wicked City
19 June 2020

With a name like Jockstrap, you might expect the UK duo of Taylor Skye and Georgia Ellery to play facetious art-pop tunes. Well, they do, at times, for very short amounts of time. That is, the experimental duo are not entirely bound to anything. On their 2018 debut EP Love Is the Key to the City, they teased their ability to shift sounds and styles in an instant. At any moment, Skye’s vocals could suddenly shift from soft croons, fit for twee pop, to bold spoken word, jumbled by skittering effects. At any moment, Ellery’s production could bend from neoclassical strings to synthpop, to experimental club.

Now, on their latest EP Wicked City, Jockstrap continue to push their ability to deconstruct and rearrange theory, instinct, and especially, expectation. Even more than before, they run through a gamut of styles and sounds, sometimes gracefully, sometimes forcefully, but still, always seductively. Truly, they treat Wicked City as an unfolding of boundaries.

Jockstrap describe the EP thusly: “The heavy autobiographical narrative of Wicked City is married to an expressive and limitless sound world; influenced by everything we have ever musically absorbed and molded with.” From the start, their litany of influences is apparent. On the opener “Robert”, the duo collaborate with Injury Reserve—RIP Jordan Alexander Groggs—for a flurry of powerful moments. Skye begins with a possessed spoken word that is incessantly derailed by percussive flairs, like those of Arca or Jlin. Then, the Injury Reserve verses are warped over metallic 808s, much like SOPHIE might create. Of course, the duo must disrupt even more, so there is an interlude of ominous ambiance, something like the Haxan Cloak might compose. Most intriguingly, while I just rattled off several resemblances, in the end, the track ultimately only resembles the strange, always shifting aura of Jockstrap.

The centerpieces of Wicked City continue to evolve with varied influences in sight. “Acid” recalls the art-pop nature of their prior EP, laminated with more refined flairs of production. “Yellow in Green” is a melancholy, majestic piano ballad that is (bit)crushed by Skye’s nude delivery. “The City”, also, is a piano ballad, a romantic vignette, until it is not, morphing into a resonant banger, a psychedelic stream of consciousness.

Ultimately, “City Hell” is the grand closer and finest work of fluidity on Wicked City. It is sometimes bare, sometimes symphonic. It is just the right amount of serious, just the right amount of cheesy. It is what their name Jockstrap entails, a disastrous but entertaining mix of careful thought and impulsive jokes. This is an art school duo who are not afraid to take on the smeared label of “art school”. So, why not blend orchestral strings and acoustic pianos with blaring rave synths and a bravado guitar solo? Why not fade out during the four-minute mark only to return with even more gratuitous guitar and synth solos? Because most would completely fall to such gimmicks of genre fusion. But for Jockstrap, it seems natural. After all, there is no attempt at fusion if you do not acknowledge boundaries, to begin with.

RATING 7 / 10